Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we have faced with our 4-year-old daughter is helping her find a new way to self-soothe. One crucial piece of information that her caretakers failed to tell us on adoption day was that Grace (and presumably all the babies in her orphanage) sucked on a scrap of cloth in the same way that many babies suck on pacifiers. Had we known this, we would have had much easier nights while in China. That was the only time she felt very vulnerable and scared, and I walked the halls of our hotels for hours with her in a carrier so that the motion might lull her to sleep. It was home in America after feeding Grace a bottle that she discovered the burp cloth in my hand and immediately began carrying one with her at all times. Whenever she would go to sleep or be upset, the “ca-ca” as she calls it would soothe and calm her.
For a while, I would check on her often to make sure she wasn’t choking on it. She can fit so much fabric in her mouth that it’s a wonder she doesn’t wake up with an aching jaw or sore throat. Until this past summer, we allowed her to continue this habit. But several concerns arose. Her dentist warned that this sucking might result in changing the shape of her jaw and bite, causing some other issues. We also noticed that Grace was requesting (or pitching a fit) for her burp cloth if anything at all didn’t go her way. I tried verbal affirmation, hugs, and other strategies to teach her how to self-soothe, but she was becoming overly dependent on this little piece of material.
We finally convinced Grace to give up her ca-cas to her new baby sister. Things went well for awhile until Grace began to wrestle with the reality of her having a “China mommy” in China. She has also been very sad that she wasn’t ever in my tummy. In fact, this sadness has preoccupied her thoughts and conversations. Along with this emotional change emerged a newly intensified need to self-soothe by sucking. We have since found her sucking on her sheets in bed, sucking on her pillow, and even pushing her shirt into her mouth. With these realizations she’s working through, I am tempted to let her have her beloved ca-cas back. I try every way I can think of to make her feel loved, safe, secure, wanted, and cherished. But nothing can compete with that burp cloth that had soothed her since infancy.
It may seem silly that this whole post is about a piece of cloth. But the underlying issue is that our daughter has not yet learned to soothe herself as most children do. We want her to feel the freedom to express stress, sadness, or fear. But we also want to teach her healthy ways to cope. Overall, Grace is a very well-adjusted girl. But as in nearly all adoptions, we still have challenges to overcome and restoration of her soul that will take time.